By Tim Collins — Contributor
Concern for the ability of elderly citizens to evacuate from multi-story buildings in case of a fire is legitimate and is shared by fire departments in Sidney and North and Central Saanich, according to Brett Mikkelsen, Deputy Fire Chief of the Sidney Fire Department.
But Mikkelsen explained that it’s an issue that all three fire departments are addressing and he’s confident that they are doing everything possible to keep residents safe.
“For us, pre-fire planning is the key,” he said.
The issue was recently brought to the attention of the Peninsula News Review by Wayne Neville, whose ninety-year-old mother resides in one of Sidney’s many retirement high-rises.
“My mother is 90, and has suffered a stroke that has left her mobility severely impaired,” said Neville.
“She can’t use the stairs and isn’t supposed to use the elevator in case of a fire. So what does she do?”
According to Mikkelsen, the answer to that question is complex.
“We have to consider the building construction type (combustible versus non-combustible), as well as how advanced the fire is when we arrive,” he said.
“We would also consider the information provided by residents when we arrive and all of the information we have available in our pre-fire plan.”
That pre-fire planning is the key, stressed Mikkelsen.
He said that staffs of all three fire departments spend thousands of hours meeting with building representatives and residents to prepare detailed information on the buildings and the people who live there.
In the case of Sidney, that work involves all five full-time staff and the 35 volunteer fire fighters.
“We talk to the residents, usually through their strata councils, to get a detailed picture of the building and its occupants,” said Mikkelsen, adding that by the time that his crews arrive at a building fire they have consulted their mobile computers and have all that information at hand.
That knowledge allows the fire fighters to ensure that assistance is given to people who, like Neville’s mother, cannot evacuate without help.
That pre-fire planning is part of the impetus behind the hiring plan recently adopted by Sidney’s Council.
“We added one career firefighter this past month and will add another in both 2014 and 2015,” said Mikkelsen.
“These professionals will be working with existing staff, not only to fight fires, but to promote and prepare pre-fire plans for high risk buildings and populations. For us, it’s all about being prepared,” he said.
More information on the Sidney Fire Department and its pre-fire planning can be found on the web at www.sidney.ca/Municipal_Hall/Departments/Emergency_Services/Fire_Department.htm.